Monday, February 27, 2012

Your Personal Brand: Part 1 – Evaluating and Defining

On Friday, I sat on an alumni panel sponsored by Northwestern University’s MSLOC program as part of a “Brand Yourself” series.  The discussion centered on the panelists' stories and experiences in developing and marketing a personal brand to help achieve our career goals.  To view a recording of the virtual panel, go HERE.  I provided a 30 minute talk, but thought it would be helpful to share some of my insights in a post.

My career story has seen some twists and turns, and has not been without challenge.  Most of the past twenty years have been spent working closely with CEOs and leadership teams (1994-2008), while I concurrently completed three academic degrees and multiple professional certifications (1997-2009), and grew a consulting practice (2000-present).  This was all with the intention of broadening and deepening my expertise and experience in the individual, team, and organizational spheres.

As I focused intensely on my own personal and professional development, I was learning a great deal about how to present and position myself to best navigate through my career.  Both unconsciously and consciously, I was creating what has become my personal brand.

When thinking about personal brand, what comes to mind?  Is it your resume, or your online presence?  Is it how you portray yourself to colleagues at work or at networking events?  Is it how your friends and family see you?  Is it how you express your values on a daily basis?  The answer is YES to all of these questions, and more.

The thing to remember is: your personal brand is already out there, whether you like it or not.  Google yourself and see what comes up.  Those are the things that hiring professionals will view when they inevitably investigate your online presence when considering you for a job.  Your Facebook posts and LinkedIn copy all say something about you, and it’s the reader who decides who you are to them (perceptions are their realities).  So, it’s important to do an audit to see what’s currently out there, and consider whether it aligns with how you want to be perceived.

I’ve extensively discussed the importance of starting with your core for everything you want to be/do/have.  Developing your personal brand requires the same process, but has both strong internal and external considerations.  It’s about who you are, and what you’re about, as well as who your audience(s) is and how you want to be seen.  Let’s look at some key questions to ask yourself:


       Who am I and what’s important to me?  Consider:
      Purpose (What/Why)
      Passions (What/Why)
      Values (Why)
      Strengths (What/How) – innate and able to be developed
      WIIFM – What’s in it for you?
       What impact do I want to have?  For whom?  This is both short- and long-term.
       What do I want to be known for?  By whom?  This may be about developing expertise or leaving a legacy.
       Where am I blocked?  This may be about fear that stops you or derailers that get in your way.


       Who is my audience / target market?  Consider both personal and professional, depending on your business.
      WIIFT – What’s in it for them?  What can they gain?
      What do they want? 
      What is needed “out there”?  Is there a gap I can fill?
       How can I best represent myself?
      How do I see myself?
      How do others see me?
      Where is the disconnect?
      How do I want them to see me?
       What is my story?
      What story am I currently telling?
      What do I want to tell?
      How might I reframe or alter the story?

The last part focuses on your story.  When I refer to that, I’m not suggesting it’s about a tale you spin.  Rather it’s your authentic truth and how your life, work, and life’s work have unfolded – and how you give a narrative of that journey.  It’s about putting into words and actions your core self, manifesting something in the world.  This is what will show up as your personal brand. 

As Michael Port says, your brand will look, sound and feel like you, and will be easily recognizable as your essence.  You will want it to be clear, authentic, meaningful, and consistent.  This will help make it feel real and memorable for others, prompting them to say, “Oh yeah, [name] is the person you want to reach out to for help with [expertise].”  Or, “[Name] is my go-to person if I want deeper insights and guidance about [topic].”  Or, “If you need really good [product/service], you will want to check out [name].”

To get there, you will need to do the upfront introspection, conduct an audit of what currently exists, determine your intentions, and set a strategy and plan for how to be intentional about designing your personal brand.  You have to consider what you are about, what your offer is, and how you will talk about you/it.  Determine:

  • Who you are at your core, what you stand for, and why you do what you do
  • The specific, topics, issues, or problems you focus on (and solve?)
  • Who your various audiences are and who you impact (or intend to)
  • The results you achieve – both tangible and intangible
  • Why people should work with you or buy what you’re selling (literally and figuratively)
Put some time into working through these questions and areas to consider, and evaluate what you define your personal brand to be (or want it to be).  Remember: It’s already out there. It’s up to you to determine whether it is an accurate, authentic representation of who you are and how you want to be seen...and what you want to do about it. 

In Part 2, I will discuss some tactics and specific approaches to personal branding I have found to be effective.